The most common colours in English

by Andrea Byaruhanga
January 5, 2021

When it comes to colours in English, you may already know the basics – red, orange, yellow and so on. But did you know there’s a whole world of colour names out there you may never have heard of? 
In this post, we’re going to look at some more unique and descriptive (not to mention cooler) names of colours in English. We’ll also check out some colourful English idioms.  Ready to add some colour to your vocabulary? Let’s get started!

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Colours in English

1. Red

Ah, red – a vibrant colour that signifies many characteristics, including passion, anger and courage. But the word “red” falls a little flat, don’t you think? Instead, try using one of these descriptive names: 

  • Ruby
  • Crimson
  • Cherry
  • Scarlet
  • Wine

2. Orange

Many people see orange as a bright, sunny colour. Sharing a name with a similarly brightly coloured fruit, orange evokes joy, warmth and energy. Here are some other ways to describe orange:  

  • Fire
  • Apricot
  • Marmalade
  • Tiger
  • Tangerine

3. Yellow

How many times have you heard the colour yellow being compared to a lemon? This beautiful colour, signifying freshness and positivity, deserves better than that! Instead, try: 

  • Honey
  • Canary
  • Gold
  • Pineapple
  • Bumblebee 

4. Green 

Green is known as the colour of nature, health and vitality. But it’s also connected to money and envy! Such a multi-faceted colour deserves some more unique name options, doesn’t it? What about: 

  • Shamrock
  • Emerald
  • Lime
  • Seafoam
  • Juniper

5. Blue

Blue is often seen as a colour that means peace and trust (and yes, sometimes sadness). If you’re like me, you probably think that the word “blue” just doesn’t quite fit. Here are some more descriptive names:

  • Azure
  • Navy
  • Cerulean
  • Cobalt
  • Sapphire

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6. Purple

The colour of royalty, purple is connected to not only luxury but also power. But say the word “purple” to yourself a couple of times – it sounds kind of funny, doesn’t it? We can do better than that! Instead, consider: 

  • Violet
  • Magenta
  • Lilac
  • Grape
  • Wine

7. Pink

For many, pink signifies love, friendship and affection. As much as I like the colour, I find that the word “pink” sounds a little silly, much like its purple cousin. Here are some far superior names for this cheery hue:

  • Fuschia
  • Strawberry
  • Rosewood
  • Flamingo
  • Magenta

8. Brown

The colour brown is often overlooked, maybe because it’s not as vibrant as the colours above. However, brown is all about security, resiliency and safety – it’s a fantastic colour. Here are some names that suit it much better: 

  • Mocha
  • Gingerbread
  • Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • Cinnamon

9. Black

Mystery, strength, sophistication and power: Black conveys all that and more. This deep, dark shade goes by many other names, including: 

  • Midnight
  • Onyx
  • Raven
  • Oil
  • Obsidian

10. Grey

What comes to mind when you think of the colour grey? You might think of it as moody, or maybe cool and neutral. Regardless of its meaning, it’s a fantastic, timeless colour that can be better described as: 

  • Ash
  • Silver
  • Smoke
  • Graphite
  • Pewter

11. White

Most of the time, white is known as a positive colour. It’s used to symbolize things like innocence and spirituality. However, it’s also seen as a little plain. While you might not think there’s much interesting about white, maybe these names will change your mind:

  • Eggshell
  • Frost
  • Porcelain
  • Cream
  • Ivory

Colours in English idioms

Now that we’ve uncovered some far more interesting names for colours in English, let’s go through some colourful English idioms!

Caught red-handed

→ Discovered doing something bad

“My daughter told me she hadn’t stolen any cookies from the kitchen, but I caught her red-handed!”

Red flag

→ A warning sign of danger or of a problem

“I don’t think her boyfriend is a good guy; there are so many red flags.”

Green with envy

→ Extremely envious 

“When she saw her neighbour’s brand new car, she felt green with envy.”

Out of the blue

→ Unexpectedly; with no warning

I’m not sure what’s wrong with me. I felt fine this morning, but then got sick out of the blue! 

Tickled pink

→ Amused; very happy

“My mom told me you’re coming to visit us next month! I’m just tickled pink!”

White lie

→ A lie about something unimportant that’s told in order to be polite or kind

“My husband is a terrible cook but I always tell a little white lie and say I love his cooking. I don’t want to hurt his feelings!”

Black sheep

→ A member of a family or of a group who is different from others and feels left out or like they don’t belong. 

“Her sister is a lawyer, her brother is an accountant and both of her parents are doctors. She feels like the black sheep because she’s an artist.”

Grey area

→ A situation in which the rules are unclear

“Is it bad to steal bread to feed your starving family? There’s no easy answer to that – it’s a grey area.”


A splash of colour

The words we discussed above are just scratching the surface. There are tons of other colour names and idioms for you to discover. So start making your vocabulary more lively and expressive by painting a picture with some colourful words!


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Andrea is a Canadian freelance writer and editor specializing in English, e-learning, EdTech, and SaaS. She has a background as an ESL teacher in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. In her free time, Andrea loves hanging out with her husband and son, creating recipes in the kitchen, and reading fiction. She also loves camping and jumping into lakes whenever possible. Learn more about Andrea on LinkedIn or check out her website.